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Reducing sudden unexpected infant deaths

Media Release

21 November 2006

Reducing sudden unexpected infant deaths a priority

Reducing New Zealand's Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy rates is a priority in the review of the Well Child Tamariki Ora Framework, the Ministry of Health says.

The Ministry's Chief Advisor Child and Youth Health Dr Pat Tuohy says the review will identify key areas that we need to focus on, such as reducing Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) rates, increasing breastfeeding, improving maternal and infant health and supporting parents with parenting.

The review, which is still in the early stages, will also assess how services can best be delivered to reach children and families.

The latest report by the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee says a significant proportion of SUDI cases may be preventable. SUDI includes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, but also other sudden unexpected infant deaths for which a cause may have been identified. The report also raises concern that SUDI rates for Maori were more than eight times higher than for Non-Maori.

The Ministry has had a number of discussions with the Maori SIDS Prevention Programme team over the past few months and will meet again with them shortly to discuss how best to reduce Maori SUDI rates, Dr Tuohy says.

Updated advice to families around SUDI prevention will soon be published. This will include a recommendation that babies are put to sleep in their own cot or bassinet in their parents' room for the first six months, in addition to current advice that parents should
• put babies to sleep on their back
• not smoke before and during pregnancy
• breastfeed their baby
• not share their bed with their baby if they have smoked during pregnancy, are overtired, have been drinking alcohol, taking prescription or other drugs that may slow their reactions.

"Parents should ask their GP or midwife for help to stop or reduce smoking during pregnancy because of the many adverse effects that smoking has on their baby," Dr Tuohy says.

Smoking rates in Maori communities, especially among mothers, are a particular concern and a priority for the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards.

Smoking cessation programmes specifically for pregnant women and the Aukati Kai Paipa programme, which is delivered by Maori providers, are some of the ways we are trying to help Maori mums quit the habit. The Government currently spends about $6.4 million on smoking cessation services targeted to Maori, and $1.5 million on Maori smokefree promotion.

The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee report also noted concern about the number of deaths from suicide by children aged 10-14 years.

It is of concern that any child aged 10 to 14 years has died by suicide. Because of the small numbers involved, it is difficult to establish emerging trends as numbers tend to fluctuate year by year, however the Ministry is closely monitoring suicide trends and rates in the population overall, and by age group, to inform where suicide prevention efforts need to be targeted.

The Action Plan for the newly released New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy which is currently being developed, will include initiatives to address the prevention of suicide in this age group.

Suicide has an immense impact on families, whanau, and communities, and the impact can be even more traumatic when someone so young takes their own life. In recognition of this, the Ministry is currently in negotiations for a national service to provide support to families, whanau and others who are bereaved by suicide or affected by a suicide attempt.

The Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee report is available at


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